Home > About Agnes O'Farrelly (1874-1951)

About Agnes O'Farrelly (1874-1951)

Introduction

Agnes Farrelly (later O’Farrelly) was born in Raffoney, a few miles outside the town of Virginia in south-east Cavan, where her father was a prosperous Catholic landlord and farmer. She was the seventh of nine children, and after attending the local national school, O’Farrelly was sent to the Holy Faith convent boarding school in Glasnevin. Boarding school was expected to be the end of her formal education; however, when her father died in 1896, and left money to her in his will, O’Farrelly decided to enroll in St. Mary’s University College, Dublin, in spite of the reservations of the rest of her family.

O’Farrelly was an avid reader and writer long before she enrolled in St. Mary’s. At the age of fourteen, she published her first letter in the ‘Irish Fireside Club’, the Weekly Freeman’s hugely popular children’s column. She soon proved to be the most vocal girl corresponding with the Irish Fireside Club, and she later went on to write a weekly series for her local Cavan newspaper the Anglo-Celt, entitled ‘Glimpses of Breffni and Meath.’

Women’s Rights

In St. Mary’s University College, O’Farrelly was surrounded by the first generation of Catholic Irish women to receive university degrees. Among them were her close friends Hanna Sheehy (later Sheehy Skeffington), Máire Ní Chinnéide, and Mary Hayden (who lectured on history in the college). O’Farrelly was a keen supporter of women’s rights and was involved in several women’s organisations throughout her adult life. By 1902 she was an active member of the newly established Irish Association of Women Graduates and Candidate Graduates. In 1914 she became a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and in 1918 took on the role of secretary of the organising committee of ‘Lá na mBan’ [Women’s Day], an occasion on which the nationalist women of Ireland were urged to voice their opposition to Conscription to the British army. In 1937 O’Farrelly was involved in the campaign against the new draft constitution. From 1943-1947 she served as president of the National University Women Graduates’ Association. O’Farrelly was also a supporter of women’s sports, and established the UCD Camogie Club in 1911. She was aware that by promoting Camogie in the National University, amongst the educated young ladies of the Catholic middle-class, she was securing the future of Camogie. She later became Life President of the Camogie Association of Ireland, in acknowledgement of her efforts to promote the sport over several decades.

The Irish Language

Upon her arrival at St. Mary’s, O’Farrelly requested that the Irish language be taught as a university subject for women. This led to the Gaelic League vice-president Eoin Mac Néill being enlisted as Irish lecturer. O’Farrelly subsequently became the first woman to receive a BA and MA degree in the Irish language (and in later years, the first female lecturer and female professor of Irish), and she immediately became involved in every aspect of the Gaelic League. O’Farrelly lobbied leading figures within the Gaelic League at every opportunity to further the organisation’s commitment towards gender equality, and she actively sought its support for her women’s rights campaigns in University education. Simultaneously, and along with Mary Hayden, she sought support for the Irish language among her friends within the women’s movement.

In 1901, she became the first female Irish-language writer, upon the publication of Grádh agus Crádh [Love and Anguish]. This was only the second ‘novel’ in the Irish language, and was loosely based on a murder in County Cavan in the early nineteenth century which had been assimilated into the local folklore of O’Farrelly’s youth. Grádh agus Crádh had a feminist propagandist function, and offered a subversive treatise on the Irish colonial situation. O’Farrelly continued to publish works in various genres, including An Cneamhaire (1902), Smuainte ar Árainn (1902), Leabhar an Athar Eoghan: The O’Growney Memorial Volume (1904), Filidheacht Sheagháin Uí Neachtain: Cuid a hAon (1908), Out of the Depths (1921), and Áille an Domhain (1927). O’Farrelly’s earliest literary efforts received much praise from her peers, particularly given that she had been learning the Irish language for only a few years, yet her adherence to ‘foreign’ and ‘modern’ narrative structures and plot devices irritated some critics.

Throughout her adult life, O’Farrelly remained devoted to promoting the Irish language as a living language. Although little Irish was spoken in Co. Cavan during her youth, the Freeman’s Journal claimed in 1902 that ‘Miss Agnes O’Farrelly has practically restored an Irish-speaking district in County Cavan.’ She soon turned her attention to promoting Irish throughout the province of Ulster. In 1906, she became the first principal of Coláiste Uladh, the Irish-language teacher-training summer college in Cloughaneely, in the Donegal Gaeltacht. For more than three decades, she spent the academic year lecturing in UCD and the summer months immersed in Irish in Coláiste Uladh. From 1914 onwards, O’Farrelly became increasingly disillusioned by the Irish political struggle for independence, and she soon withdrew from Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League. The deaths in 1916 of two of her closest male friends, P. H. Pearse and Roger Casement, left her in a despondent state. From 1918 until the end of her life, she channeled her energy into the Celtic Congress, an organization that promoted scholarship and cultural connections among Celtic regions. She was awarded the title of Life President of the Celtic Congress owing to her work on behalf of the organization.

Conclusion

In recent years, several scholars have reassessed the formerly marginalised role of public and activist women of O’Farrelly’s generation. However, O’Farrelly remains a marginalized figure, largely because her writings are predominantly written in the Irish language. Nevertheless, her work provides a rich insight into language, literature, education, politics, feminism and social networks during the early- to mid-twentieth century.

 


Eolas faoi Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh (1874-1951)

Réamhrá

Rugadh Agnes Farrelly i Ráth Thamhnaí, cúpla míle taobh amuigh d’Achadh an Iúir in oirdheisceart an Chabháin, áit a raibh a hathair ina thiarna talún agus ina fheirmeoir rathúil. Bhí naonúr sa chlann Chaitliceach seo, agus tar éis di freastal ar an mbunscoil áitiúil, chuaigh Ní Fhaircheallaigh go dtí meánscoil chónaithe i nGlas Naíon, faoi stiúir Shiúracha an Chreidimh Naofa. Glacadh leis go mbeadh deireadh lena hoideachas foirmeálta i ndiaidh na meánscoile; ach nuair a d’éag a hathair sa bhliain 1896, d’fhág sé airgeadh le huacht aici, agus bheartaigh sí clárú do Choláiste Ollscoile Naomh Muire, Cearnóg Mhuirfean, in éadan thoil a muintire.

Ba léitheoir agus scríbhneoir bisiúil í Ní Fhaircheallaigh i bhfad sular chláraigh sí do Choláiste Muire: agus í ceithre bliana déag d’aois, d’fhoilsigh sí a céad litir san ‘Irish Fireside Club’, colún mór-ráchairte do pháistí sa Weekly Freeman. Roimh i bhfad, ba í an cailín ba theanntásaí í i measc lucht comhfhreagrais an ‘Irish Fireside Club’. Lean sí uirthi ag scríobh agus chuir sí sraith dar theideal ‘Glimpses of Breffni and Meath’ i gcló ina nuachtán áitiúil, an Anglo-Celt, ina dhiaidh sin.

Cearta na mBan

I gColáiste Mhuire, chuir Ní Fhaircheallaigh aithne ar an gcéad ghlúin de mhná Caitliceacha Éireannacha a bhain céimeanna ollscoile amach. Ina measc bhí Hanna Sheehy (Sheehy Skeffington ina dhiaidh sin), Máire Ní Chinnéide, agus Máire Ní Aodáin, a bhí ina léachtóir le stair sa choláiste. Thacaigh Ní Fhaircheallaigh le cearta na mban agus bhí baint aici le roinnt eagraíochtaí ban i rith a saoil: faoin mbliain 1902, ba bhall gníomhach í de Chumann Banchéimithe Ollscoileanna na hÉireann a bhí díreach tagtha ar an bhfód; comhbhunaitheoir Chumann na mBan a bhí inti sa bhliain 1914; ghlac sí le ról mar rúnaí choiste ‘Lá na mBan’ sa bhliain 1918, ócáid a lig do mhná náisiúnaíocha na hÉireann cur i gcoinne bhagairt an choinscríofa in arm na Breataine; sa bhliain 1937, bhí baint aici leis an bhfeachtas i gcoinne dréacht den Bhunreacht nua; agus ó 1943-1947, bhí sí ina huachtarán ar Chumann Banchéimithe Ollscoileanna na hÉireann. Thacaigh Ní Fhaircheallaigh le spórt na mban freisin, agus chuir sí Cumann Camógaíochta an Choláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath, ar bun sa bhliain 1911. Thuig sí go mbeadh rath ar an gcamógaíocht sa todhchaí dá gcuirfí an spórt chun cinn i measc na mban óg meánaicmeach Caitliceach a d’fhreastail ar an Ollscoil Náisiúnta. Bronnadh an teideal Uachtarán Saoil Chumann Camogaíochta na hÉireann uirthi mar aitheantas ar a hiarrachtaí chun an spórt a chur chun cinn thar na blianta.

An Ghaeilge

Nuair a bhain Ní Fhaircheallaigh Coláiste Mhuire amach, lorg sí cead chun staidéar a dhéanamh ar an nGaeilge mar ábhar ollscoile. Fostaíodh Eoin Mac Néill, leasuachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge, chun an Ghaeilge a mhúineadh di. Ba í an chéad bhean í a bhain céim BA agus MA amach sa Ghaeilge (agus ba í an chéad bhean í a fuair post mar léachtóir agus mar ollamh le Gaeilge blianta ina dhiaidh sin). Tar éis di aithne a chur ar Eoin Mac Néill, thosaigh Ní Fhaircheallaigh ag glacadh páirte i ngach gné d’obair Chonradh na Gaeilge. Stocaire cumasach a bhí inti: thapaigh sí gach deis chun cúis an chomhionannais inscne agus cearta oideachasúla na mban a bhrú chun tosaigh i measc lucht an Chonartha agus thapaigh sí gach deis chun cúis na Gaeilge a chur chun cinn i measc lucht an fheimineachais.

Sa bhliain 1901, nuair a d’fhoilsigh sí Grádh agus Crádh, glacadh léi mar an chéad bhanscríbhneoir Gaeilge. Ba é seo an dara ‘[h]úrscéal’ a foilsíodh sa Ghaeilge agus bhí sé bunaithe go pointe ar scéal dúnmharaithe a thit amach i gCo. an Chabháin ag tús an naoú haois déag agus a bhí mar chuid den seanchas áitiúil nuair a bhí Ní Fhaircheallaigh ag fás aníos. Tá ról bolscaireachta feimineach ag baint le Grádh agus Crádh, agus tugann sé léiriú treascach ar stair choilíneach na hÉireann. Lean Ní Fhaircheallaigh uirthi ag foilsiú leabhar: An Cneamhaire (1902); Smuainte ar Árainn (1902); Leabhar an Athar Eoghan: The O’Growney Memorial Volume (1904); Filidheacht Sheagháin Uí Neachtain: Cuid a hAon (1908); Out of the Depths (1921); agus Áille an Domhain (1927). Mhol a cairde liteartha a cuid luathoibre go hard, go háirithe toisc go raibh sí i ndiaidh an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim taobh istigh de dhornán blianta, ach chuir a cuid scríbhneoireachta isteach ar chriticeoirí áirithe nach raibh róthógtha le structúir reacaireachta ‘iasachta’ agus ‘nua-aimseartha’ ná le seifteanna nua liteartha.

 

Ar feadh a saoil, ghlac Ní Fhaircheallaigh páirt lárnach i gcur chun cinn na Gaeilge mar theanga bheo. Le linn a hóige, bhí an Ghaeilge imithe i léig cuid mhaith ina ceantar dúchais i gCo. an Chabháin, ach sa bhliain 1902, tuairiscíodh sa Freeman’s Journal ‘Miss Agnes O’Farrelly has practically restored an Irish-speaking district in County Cavan.’ Thug sí aghaidh ansin ar chur chun cinn na Gaeilge ar fud chúige Uladh. Sa bhliain 1906, glacadh léi mar an chéad phríomhoide ar Choláiste Uladh, coláiste samhraidh Gaeilge i nGaeltacht Thír Chonaill. Ar feadh breis is tríocha bliain, chaitheadh sí laethanta an tsamhraidh tumtha sa Ghaeilge i gColáiste Uladh, agus chaitheadh sí an bhliain acadúil ag léachtóireacht sa Choláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath. Ón mbliain 1914 ar aghaidh, tháinig lagmhisneach uirthi mar thoradh ar an suíomh achrannach polaitiúil in Éirinn, agus níorbh fhada gur éirigh sí as Cumann na mBan agus Conradh na Gaeilge. Chaill sí a dóchas nuair a cuireadh a dlúthchairde Pádraic Mac Piarais agus Ruairí Mac Easmuinn chun báis sa bhliain 1916. Ón mbliain 1918 ar aghaidh, thosaigh sí ag díriú a cuid fuinnimh ar an gComhdháil Cheilteach, eagraíocht a chuir an léann Ceilteach chun cinn, chomh maith le naisc chultúrtha idir na dúichí Ceilteacha. Bronnadh an teideal Uachtarán Saoil na Comhdhála Ceiltí uirthi mar aitheantas ar a cuid oibre ar son na heagraíochta sin.

Conclúid

Le blianta beaga anuas, tá athmhachnamh déanta ag scoláirí éagsúla ar ról imeallach na mban i stair agus i litríocht na hÉireann ag tús na fichiú haoise. Ach tá imeallú fós i gceist i gcás Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh toisc go mbíodh sí ag scríobh as Gaeilge go príomha. Mar sin féin, tugann a saol agus a saothar léargas saibhir dúinn ar chúrsaí teanga, litríochta, oideachais, polaitíochta, feimineachais, agus ar ghréasáin shóisialta ó thús go lár na fichiú haoise. 

 


 

Ríona Nic Congáil is a lecturer in the Irish language in St Patrick's College, Drumcondra. Her main interests include Revivalist Literature and Children's Literature. She has written extensively on Agnes O'Farrelly including her biography Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh agus an Fhís Útóipeach Ghealach and an English translation of Smaointe Ar Árainn.